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Balancing acts of work in the third sector: older volunteers’ experience in woodland conservation

Research output: Contribution to conference Conference paper

Published
Publication date2014
Original languageEnglish
EventThe Third Sector, the State and the Market: Challenges and Opportunities in an Era of Austerity - Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, United Kingdom
Duration: 28/10/201428/10/2014

Conference

ConferenceThe Third Sector, the State and the Market: Challenges and Opportunities in an Era of Austerity
CountryUnited Kingdom
CitySheffield
Period28/10/1428/10/14

Abstract

Woodland conservation is considered essential work in order to maintain the natural environment and sustain biodiverse woodland habitats vital both for wildlife and to promote human health and wellbeing. However, conservation work is largely reliant on an intergenerational volunteer workforce many of whom are older retired people, who are balancing the opportunity to contribute in conserving their local community open space with the challenge of doing strenuous work.

In this paper we report from a small qualitative pilot project funded by the British Academy examining skill sharing and motivations of older conservation volunteers within an intergenerational cohort. Early findings presented here suggest older conservation volunteers are caught between the desire to do useful work which they value as benefiting their health and wellbeing and the realisation that these essential conservation services should secure greater State investment and provide jobs for working age people. Older volunteers also appear to derive benefit from conservation tasks by being supported by volunteer group organisers to be able to pace the work, thus enabling the continuation of conservation volunteering into older age and enhancing the benefits gained from outdoor activities. They enjoy the flexibility of voluntary work, which fits in with their social and family commitments and allows them to resist the pressures and responsibilities experienced in their working lives.
We argue that as the balance is shifted towards greater State reliance on conservation volunteers to enhance the environmental capital of ‘natural’ spaces, this element of free will and voluntary effort is eroded, which could potentially impact on the motivation and thereby the benefits of taking part in this work. Thus, even in this age of austerity, there is a need for a more generous balance in managing conservation between what is expected of voluntary input and State investment, and that this balance would be mutually beneficial to both Third and State sectors.